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The Arts and Crafts Movement in Victoria, B.C.

   

Introduction to the Arts and Crafts Movement

In England and then America in the late 19th century, a middle class revolution occurred against Victorian values, industrialization and the mass production of low-quality products. Originally a British movement whose roots can be traced back to the early 1800's, the social and moral preachings of people such as John Ruskin and William Morris in the late 1800's influenced the burgeoning what would be known as the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The philosophy behind the Arts and Crafts Movement was recognition that technology, or industrialization, did not equate to a higher quality of life for individuals. The Arts and Crafts Movement believed that the degradation of social values, which was evident through poor working conditions, poverty and the exploitation of workers, was caused by wide-spread industrialization (Naylor, pg. 7).

By 1880, the Arts and Crafts Movement became the symbol for the "liberal middle class" (Anscombe, pg. 54). The movement strove to make art affordable to all people, create better working conditions, and influence a climate where artists who ranged from architects to those involved in the fine arts, were free to be creative. In the new society which the Arts and Crafts Movement hoped to influence, artists could design and create each piece of work from start to finish. Pieces would be hand-made and of the best quality.

Because of its strive for universal accessibility to art, the movement was considered to be closely allied with socialism in its dictate that "honest craftsmanship is good for both the craftsman and the inhabitant of a 'reformed' home" (Anscombe, pg. 56). The Arts and Crafts Movement focused on personal aesthetics and the individual. In these aesthetic values, the movement believed that society produced the art and architecture in which it deserves (Callen, pg. 2).

Ironically, by the end of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the first quarter of the 20th century, the products of the movement became so expensive that only the wealthy could afford them.

Arts and Crafts in America

Although influenced by many of the same writings and beliefs of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the movement in America was housed within the context of the post-war reconstruction in the United States and the settlement and development of new territories (Anscombe, pg. 63).

Letter from A. Hubbard to Katharine Maltwood
Letter to from A. Hubbard
to Katharine Maltwood

During this time around the turn of the century, the Arts and Crafts Movement was most prevalent in the Eastern and Mid-United States. One of the most influential individuals in this movement was Gustav Stickley who designed and built functional furniture in Chicago. Stickley published the periodical, the Craftsman which had wide-distribution over North America and influenced the stylistic choices of many households.

Another influential publication of the Arts and Crafts movement in America was the Fra, published by Elbert Hubbard. The Fra, like the Craftsman, preached the positive values of owning a home designed by known Arts and Crafts architects and furnishing and decorating it appropriately. Hubbard founded the Roycroft artistic community in East Aurora, New York which was one of the most successful Arts and Crafts communities in the United States and produced commodities ranging from books to furniture to its famous copper pieces.

Many other important artists and groups contributed to the development and prominence of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the United States. Individuals such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and groups such as the Rookwood and Van Briggle Pottery Companies have a legacy which is visible in collections as far north and west as that of Katharine Emma Maltwood of Victoria, British Columbia.

The John & Katharine Maltwood Collection

The Magna Mater at the Roycroft Institute
The Magna Mater at the Roycroft Institute

Katharine Maltwood, an English sculptress and antiquarian, had a life-long involvement in the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1911, Maltwood completed a sculptural commission called the Magna Mater for Alice and Elbert Hubbard, the founders of the Roycroft Institute and editors of the Fra. The Maltwood's personal collection, which was bequested to the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, contains a large number of Arts and Crafts pieces ranging from Roycroft copper pieces, Earthenware from Van Briggle, Weller and Rookwood Pottery Companies to numerous silver pieces, oak furniture and a Tiffany leaded stainglass lamp.

Katharine Maltwood sculpting the Magna Mater
Katharine Maltwood Sculpting the Magna Mater

Katharine Maltwood and her husband, John, believed in surrounding themselves with beautiful objects and in this way, they were following the ideas of Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement (Brown, pg. 45). When the Maltwoods moved to Victoria from England in 1938, Katharine began working towards developing a museum of their collection to donate to the city. She chose a Tudor revival house and named it "The Thatch". In renovating it to reflect a country home only the best quality materials were used. "The Thatch" was "evidence of the handcraftmanship [of] the Arts and Crafts principle of natural expression of material and structure (Brown, pg. 47). The Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery has continued with Katharine's life-long interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Thatch in Royal Oak, Victoria
The Thatch in Royal Oak, Victoria
 
 
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